Our Hugh loved people. I mean, Hugh loved people as they were, not as he wished them to become. It reminds me of that famous Peanuts cartoon, the one where Linus is being defensive with Lucy “I love humanity, its people I can’t stand!” Hugh loved people for all their complexity, their complications, the messiness of their lives. Hugh loved humanity and he loved people.
I miss him. Every time I sit at a coffee shop I stare at the door, waiting for that tall man in the tweed professor jacket, coffee shop t-shirt and jeans to bound inside, eyes peeled to see who was present. The other day I was in one of Hugh’s favorite haunts with two of his friends and another person who had never met Hugh. She asked, “What was he like?” I turned to the other two at the table, thought about it for a few seconds and a light went on. I said, “Hugh walking through that door was one part Misters Rogers and another part Kramer from Seinfeld.” Heads nodded. I explained that Hugh was a man of pure innocence, he saw the world not always as it was but as it should be. Hugh felt such deep compassion he would cry, often. Hugh truly cared, and like Mister Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, Hugh believed God loved each and every person whom had received this gift of life. But Hugh also had a way of grabbing your attention, raising a concern you might never have considered. Like Kramer there was a jolt to his entrance, an abrupt shift in the conversation, reminding me of Flannery O’Connor’s famous quote “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”
One example highlights this hybrid of innocent compassion and wild presentation. On a Sunday night a few years ago at Brunswick Street United Hugh was designated to read the lectionary reading, in this case the Ten Commandments. Hugh opened the Bible to Exodus and after each Commandment he would confess how he had broken it and planned to do better. As we listened we were both amused and inspired by Hugh’s humility. What a creative and honest way to bring the scriptures to life?
But you all have a story like that don’t you? I have heard from so many people touched by Hugh’s spirit. Let me share just three quick examples:
A long-time friend of Hugh has moved overseas. He had been there for 12 years and not much correspondence had been maintained. But when this friend decided to return to Halifax Hugh was there in his British limo to give his friend a royal welcome.
A mature student who went back to school through the Transition year program was worried about her math skills. She confided this worry to Hugh. Hugh immediately suggested they meet every week to review the course work. But in true Hugh style he suggested they end every session with a swim in the local pool. This woman is now a social worker out west and could not be here in person but she wanted me to tell you Hugh’s tutoring and supportive laughter made all the difference in her life.
A church where Hugh was playing the organ embarked on an outreach drop-in. The volunteers were nervous how they would facilitate conversations with complete strangers. Not to worry, Hugh would bound through the door each week to make everyone feel welcome and weave conversations between two and three into a room full of friends. Mr. Creighton’s Neighbourhood!
I will miss our dear friend Hugh. But if he were here now you know what he would tell us? He would tell us to sing the hymns with feeling and passion. He would also want us to be looking at the doorway, not just expecting him to bound in, Kramer-like, through the door, but to be welcoming any and all newcomers to our neighbourhood. Hugh showed us how.
Hugh, I have always wanted to live in a neighourhood with you. Thank you.